In Hope

 

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‘It’s great you’re here.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Thought you wouldn’t make it.’

‘Well … I did.’

A singular frequency droning unwavering in his ears, he turned, light in the room brightening, until everybody was monochromatic, bar his family, shining vividly with pulsing nimbuses; his wife, Taylor, seated, fidgeting, a tremor ready to earthquake; his kids, Bobby and Emily, clutching at the lapels of her skirt around her knees; his father pacing; his mother wilting.

‘Are you staying?’

He closed his eyes and as pain spider-webbed through his chest thought of a Matryoshka Doll – of a doll, inside a doll, inside a doll – and that at his core, he would find stillness and, if not that, at least purpose. But what he discovered was nothing but an antagonism of unease. The pain sharpened.

‘I don’t know.’

‘It’s great you’re here.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Thought you wouldn’t make it.’

He lowered his face from Taylor, left only with the memories of the other women: Denise, who he’d fuck routinely at the Bed’n’Breakfast; of Ally, whom he’d convinced, coerced, to have an abortion; of Rebecca, whom he’d buggered on his office desk – the desk that had supported unrelenting manoeuvring, numbers becoming better numbers, clients becoming richer clients, morality and integrity shorn like damning documents in his tireless shredder.

‘Well … I did.’

Poor Taylor, so faithful, so loyal, so oblivious. He remembered their wedding day, gaping into her face, astounded that he could be so lucky. How long had the astonishment lasted before his eyes had roved? How long had his eyes roved before his cock had? And Taylor, poor Taylor. No wonder his chest hurt, a fire threatening to incinerate him.

‘Are you staying?’

Home he would come, Taylor beleaguered, kids screaming – brats; he would’ve loathed the parents of such shits before he’d gotten married, would’ve regarded them with contempt and vowed that his kids would never be such little cunts, but he resolved now that’s not what they were, and that they were just being kids, frivolous, mischievous, and full of an innocence he’d long forgotten.

‘I don’t know.’

And he, divorced emotionally, a debaucher, as good as an embezzler, indiscretions mushrooming into infidelities, cheater of wife, of taxes, of trusts, of life, a conscience eroded, dissipating, until nothing but sociopathy, until no remorse, no guilt, nothing but pillage and the pain, the agony, swelling, slivers searing from his chest and into his limbs, his scalp boiling as if it would pop from his head.

‘It’s great you’re here.’

He squeezed his eyes shut, until his eyeballs jabbed into his brain, his cheeks creased, and the line of his mouth caricatured, and he knew nothing but how easy oblivion could, could’ve, swallowed him, and that the precipice upon which he stood was crumbling under his fattening résumé of immorality.

‘Yeah.’

How had he not been consumed already? Or was that what was happening now? Was guilt eating him, chunk by chunk, bit by bit? Leaving nothing but the anguish and sorrow of conscience and, glowing in the embers of ruin, flaming to life, pitifully unbearable realisation.

Mind open, boundaries no more, he faced his life, until he knew that this was not where he should be, that he wasn’t just lucky, that he was chosen, and a route many-times ignored was now open again to him if he had the courage to face it, to face himself, to go on, to atone.

‘Well … I did.’

He begged his eyes to open, and through a distortion that fragmented into the back of his head and spilled remorse from where it had been secreted, he engulfed Taylor, the woman he had once married, and the kids they had conceived and reared, and whom loved him unconditionally, unmindful of his frailties, seeing him only ever as a whole and unflawed.

‘Are you staying?’

Not here, not now, not this place, not this time, not this life after. Anguish eviscerated him, tendrils enshrouding him in ribbons of fire, and his chest heaved until his stomach became a pit, and he was cognizant of an uninterrupted droning frequency stuttering, bouncing, pulsing rhythmically to the accompaniment of his heartbeat, a chaperone to what could be.

No.

He was going back.

To live.

In hope.

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